Accelerating energy storage innovation – “ what is needed and how can it be achieved?

Prof Peter Taylor, University of Leeds, United Kingdom

Dr Jonathan Radcliffe, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

Energy storage is increasing being recognised both in the UK and globally as an important component of a future low-carbon energy system, due to its ability to provide energy system flexibility by helping to balance supply and demand (Taylor et al, 2013). The term ‘energy storage’ encompasses a family of technologies, ranging across orders of magnitude in time and energy scales, covering the storage of electrical and thermal energy (and potentially other vectors, such as hydrogen) by means of a number of different physical processes. The various storage technologies are also at different stages of maturity; with some (such as pumped hydroelectricity and sensible heat storage) having been fully commercial for many years, while others (for example, certain battery chemistries and some materials for latent heat storage) still require fundamental research and development.

In the UK, public investment in energy storage research, development and demonstration has increased substantially in recent years, with the aim of accelerating the commercialisation of a number of different technologies (Winskel et al, 2014). However, the ultimate success of energy storage could crucially depend on the timing of its availability, relative to the rapidly rising deployment of variable renewables expected by the early 2020s. If the technologies are not market-ready in the next few years and other barriers to their widespread deployment remain, then traditional means of providing flexible response will be taken-up to help meet the challenges that high penetrations of wind (and solar) impose on the system. This could leave no market for disruptive alternatives and so potentially lock-in sub-optimal energy systems making decarbonisation a more costly process.

This paper addresses this innovation challenge by drawing some initial lessons from both empirical and theoretical research that is aiming to provide guidance to policy-makers and funders about the most appropriate way to support commercialisation of different forms of energy storage in the UK. Three complementary research activities have been carried out. First a mapping of UK R&D capability in energy storage was undertaken, alongside an analysis of patterns of research funding to understand the current situation. A second task, involved structured interviews with a range of stakeholders (including government and regulators, technology developers, consulting engineers, electricity distribution and transmission companies, electricity generation companies and RD&D funders) to get their perspectives on the potential role of energy storage in a future low-carbon energy system and the opportunities and barriers to deploying storage technologies. Finally, a desk-based review examined the various frameworks of innovation that have been developed and applied to energy technologies with the aim of understanding what current models of innovation can tell us about the best way to support energy storage innovation. The work reviewed has included research on supply-side technologies, such as offshore wind (Kern et al, 2014), as well as a smaller body of literature that has examined demand-side technologies (Wilson et al, 2012).

The interviews confirmed that the issues of technology cost and performance were seen as a very important or important barrier by virtually all stakeholders. Many of the respondents also felt that the government should provide further support for the development / deployment of energy storage, however opinions on the form that this support should take varied widely with views ranging from strong support for R&D through support for demonstration and deployment. The review of innovation frameworks indicated that, given the wide range of storage technologies and their different applications, a one-size fits all approach to innovation was unlikely to be successful. However, by looking across the experiences from a range of technologies, useful insights could be gained to help guide future innovation policy on energy storage.


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